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‘Use of biotechnology can resolve Pakistan’s food insecurity’

By Zeeshan Azmat
November 06, 2016

To overcome food insecurity in the country, it is direly needed to draw plans to start using biotechnology in the agriculture sector on a widespread level. The government should adopt policies in this regard on an emergency basis so that biotech crops could be made available at a time of food shortage in the markets

These views were expressed director of the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi, Professor Dr Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary, while talking to The News on Saturday.

“The country’s population has exceeded over 190 million while it is expected that there will be 300 million people in Pakistan by 2030 and to address the demographic challenges, we need a proper plan,” he stressed. “This is a dilemma that over 60 percent population is living below the absolute poverty line and around 70 to 80 percent of them spend their incomes on food only.”

He said the country faced absolute food insecurity whereas per capita consumption of wheat was also on decline. “In such a scenario, the use of biotechnology in the agriculture sector would be one of the best options.”

Explaining about biotechnology, he said it required biological processes, organisms or systems to manufacture products intended to improve the quality of human life.

“The earliest biotechnologists were farmers who developed improved species of plants and animals by cross pollination and cross breeding of plants. The biotechnological innovations spread over every sphere of human needs including, health, environment, agriculture and industrial applications,” he elaborated.   

According to him, over one billion of global population, out of the total seven billion, lives below the line of absolute poverty. “Even in this modern era, food related riots have been reported in 30 countries and many people have lost their valuable lives.”

Professor Dr M Iqbal Choudhary said the global population was expected to be 9.5 billion by 2050 and the food insecurity would become one of the major issues around the world.

“Keeping the current child birth rate and agriculture growth in mind, this is so obvious that African and Asian countries will suffer more than anybody else,” he said. The professor said the agriculture sector of the country was one of the vital economical sectors as it produced around 22 percent of total gross domestic product.

He said the agriculture sector employs were up to 44 percent labour which meant that it directly supported three-quarters of the country's population, employed half of the labour force and contributed a large share of foreign exchange earnings. “The main agricultural products of the country are cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, besides fruit and vegetables, while milk, beef, mutton, and poultry are also other major sources of protein.”

Professor Iqbal Choudhary claimed that erratic rainfall was causing the food security and unfortunately Pakistan had one of the lowest per hectare productivity in the world as compared to other developing countries. He highlighted that small land holdings, poor water management practices, drought, frequent pest attacks, non-availability of high yielding seeds, and salinity were the key problems faced by the agriculture sector in Pakistan.

He also stated that changing weather pattern or climate change was grossly affecting the agriculture productivity. “Keeping all these situations in mind, we should try biotechnology commercially because the biotechnology crops were capable to contribute in increasing crop productivity.”

He claimed the biotechnology assured affordable food security, prevented deforestation and protected biodiversity as well as reduced environmental footprint of agriculture and helped to meet the climate change challenges

The professor mentioned the use of biotechnology in the agriculture sector increased stability of productivity and production besides helping in improving economy, health, and social well-being of the country.

He observed that Pakistan had a well-established infrastructure and research and development programme for the improvement of main crops including, wheat, maize, cotton, rice and sugarcane.